Seafront traders have given their backing to plans for a new swimming centre in the hope it will herald a revival of Madeira Drive.

The Argus previously revealed the city council had agreed a five-year lease for a £3 million swimming centre on the seafront.

Yesterday hard-hit business owners in Madeira Drive gave their backing to the plans in the hope it would help the fortunes of the forlorn seafront east of Brighton Pier and boost trade in the area.

Sea Lanes Brighton Ltd hopes to open a temporary swimming centre with an indoor pool, subject to planning permission, in November on the site of the former Peter Pan playground. A 25-metre outdoor swimming heated pool open all year round will would be added in 2019.

When The Argus spoke to business owners in Madeira Drive there was resounding support.

Traders have contended with low visitor numbers and graffiti for years.

Greg Harman, who has run family-business Madeira Cafe for over three decades, gave the thumbs up.

He said: “I support it 150 per cent.

“Madeira Drive is a dying area and needs an injection of new life which is the very thing it needs.

“The swimming centre is family friendly, which is great.”

Amelie Doig, co-owner of the Andy Doig neon studio, said: “As I can go swimming there when it is too rough in the sea, it would be a lovely thing.

“In terms of helping other businesses, I think just anything that makes this side of the seafront more aesthetically pleasing is good.”

The pool will be aimed at people of all swimming abilities and those training for open water swimming events and triathlons.

If developers want to make the centre permanent following the five-year lease, they would like to get permission to build a centre with a 50-metre pool outdoor heated pool with commercial units for gyms, yoga and dance studios and office space for businesses in the leisure sector.

Neil Sykes, on the board of Brighton Seafront Traders Association and owner of Modern World Cafe and Bar, also supported it but questioned whether there was the infrastructure in place.

He said: “I think like most traders and residents, anything is positive for tourism in this neglected side of Brighton.

“As for out of season, how do people get down there? There is no bus route down Madeira Drive and the Volks railway does not run all-year round.

“The infrastructure needs to be there as well.”

Traders also mentioned the expensive parking on Madeira Drive.

Joe McNulty managing director of Copsemill Properties, the Brighton-based developers behind the project, said: “It’s interesting if you go out to sea on a busy day and you look back at Brighton on a busy bank holiday weekend.

“To the west of the pier there are masses of people and standing room only.

“But if you look to the east of the pier it looks completely empty, apart form the Yellowave bravely pioneering down the end of the eastern beach.

“The current project will be a temporary scheme, as we don’t know what will happen with the Terraces, so we thought instead of waiting for five years, why not do something in the meantime and try to bring ideas and experiment with site.”

Responding to traders’ queries over parking, he said: “If you walk from Palace Pier to the Peter Pan site it is only 16 minutes walk. It is not very far.

“We don’t anticipate a lot of people driving to our site, we anticipate people cycling, walking or using public transport from seafront road.

“Parking isn’t really a big issue for us.”

Developer inspired by a swim

The developer behind the Sea Lanes swimming centre said he was inspired to come up with the project after swimming in the sea.

Joe McNulty, managing director of Brighton-based Copsemill Properties, said: “I am a keen swimmer and I normally swim down that end of Brighton, as the beach is quiet there.

“There are no facilities, changing rooms and now nowhere to have a cup of tea, so that’s where it all started really.

“It was trying to come up with an idea if we can build something, then the swimming pool became part of it and then the commercial development to fund it.”

Over the years there have been a number of ideas floating around to develop the Peter Pan site, including a £5 million luxury health spa resort in 2012, but it was the Sea Lanes swimming centre that has come to fruition.

The £3 million for the private venture is also being fronted by members of the Brighton Sea Swimming Club, QED Sustainable Urban Developments and Hove-based swimming holiday firm Swim Trek.

But despite the ambition around the Sea Lanes, the project is still very much an “experiment” and whether it continues after the five-year lease ends and a permanent swimming centre is built very depends on its success and the regeneration of The Madeira Terraces. 

The developers were originally given an 150-year lease for the Peter Pan site by Brighton and Hove City Council. 

But they decided to opt for a five-year lease with an option to renew for a 150-year lease. 

Mr McNulty said: “Since The Terraces have been closed off, the area has deteriorated so we did not think we could invest £6 million [cost of the permanent swimming centre planned for the future] with the area looking as it does. 

“So the idea was for our temporary centre to be on the site in the meantime, while the Terraces are repaired and regenerated. 

“The whole area is in flux and until it all settles down and we know what is happening, we do not feel confident to commit to the permanent scheme.”

Only then they will consider building the £6 million permanent swimming centre with units and office space.

And what about the Sea Lanes putting Saltdean Lido’s nose out of joint, which reopened to great fanfare last year after a long campaign by volunteers to reopen the 1930s pool?

Cllr Alan Robins, chair of the city council’s economic, tourism and development committee, said: “In actual fact we are woefully short of swimming pools, which reach 44 per cent of the Government’s target for swimming pool provision in Brighton.

“I suppose you could argue there is always the great English Channel but at the moment we are not over-blessed with pools and I don’t think Saltdean Lido need to worry. 

“There is room for everybody.”

Back to its old glory

The Sea Lanes is one of several projects underway to rejuvenate and enhance the city’s seafront offer. 

The Volk’s Railway – Britain’s oldest surviving electric railway - has benefited from £1.65 million Heritage Lottery-funded improvements recently.

A crowdfunder for Madeira Terrace in November raised more than £460k towards the restoration of the first three of the Madeira Terrace’s 151 arches.

Scoping works have begun and include final surveying, getting listed building consent and proposed designs agreed in consultation with Historic England, conservation groups and businesses.

Brighton and Hove City Council has also begun a tender exercise to procure a design team and it estimates that once all preparatory work has been completed, work on site could start sometime in the summer.

The council has also submitted a bid for Heritage Lottery enterprise funding of £250k and a decision is expected in June.